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Environmental Estrogens and Health

Estrogen is important for both men and women. In women, estrogen is responsible for growth and development, reproduction, sexual characteristics, fat distribution and libido. Estrogen also plays a role in several physiological processes in both sexes, including decreasing bone resorption, maintaining normal vasculature and skin, increasing high density lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol and triglyceride turnover, influencing water and sodium balance and modulating cognitive function.

Estrogen is a steroid hormone synthesized from cholesterol; in premenopausal women, estrogen is primarily synthesized in the ovaries. In men, testosterone is converted to estrogen via aromatase in adipose tissue.

In addition to estrogen produced in the body, humans have to cope with other two types of exogenous estrogens; phytoestrogens and environmental estrogens.

While phytoestrogens have been part of the human environment for thousands of years, it is the relatively new class of “environmental estrogens” we must worry and deal with most.

Too much estrogen in women can lead to hyperplasia, endometriosis, uterine fibroids, fibrocystic breast disease and increased risk of cancer. Too much estrogen in males may result in to erectile dysfunction, sperm abnormalities, gynecomastia and increased risk of testicular and prostate cancers.

Environmental estrogens” describes a class of synthetic chemicals that have estrogen-like activity in the body. Exposure to environmental estrogens comes from many categories of chemicals, including plastics (containing phthalates, bisphenol A, and others), pesticides and herbicides (such as dieldrin or atrazine), pharmaceuticals (i.e. DES, birth control pills, etc.), industrial chemicals like PCBs, and more. Environmental estrogens are so toxic to our metabolic and endocrine systems that the Environmental Working Group has published a list of “dirty dozen endocrine disruptors”. Visit http://www.ewg.org/research/dirty-dozen-list-endocrine-disruptors for more details.

These chemicals affect fertility, both directly in adults as well as by affecting sexual development in uterus, in childhood and in puberty. They also can influence breast changes and increase rates of breast cancer in many instances.

With the ubiquitous nature of these chemicals, it’s important to be aware of your environment and avoid and eliminate exposure to chemicals and synthetic materials from your food containers and foods. Replace plastic food containers with galss food containers; do not warm or heat food in plastic containers. The more you learn about these exposures, the easier it is to understand the importance of eating organic, filtering your water and choosing “cleaner” options whenever available.